Many years ago—I don’t even remember when, but it was pre-internet—I attempted to teach myself to knit from a book. I made a very squishy red chenille scarf on big straight wooden needles. The cheap craft-store book I used didn’t explain how to finish, so I never knew what to do with the inches of yarn that remained at the end. And the whole experience was so boring I couldn’t imagine why anyone would knit at all. I swore I’d never do it again.
But in 2011, our family was preparing to move from California to Texas, about a four day drive, and an online coupon appeared in my inbox for a great deal on a beginner knitting class at a local yarn store. I figured for 20 bucks it would give me something to do in the car, and then if I never knitted again—so what?
352 completed projects (and two on the needles) later, here I am.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this hobby and what it has brought to my life for the past 10 years. And it’s not just about the knitting. If I were counting 10 years only in yarn yardage (mileage?!), stitches, and ticks of the clock hand, I couldn’t say much. But the years, the craft, all… the… stitches… have caused me to reflect on some things that are bigger than yarn and needles.
Maybe these 10 smallish “lessons” will resonate with you, too.
2011: Practice being lousy.
I chose this subtle (ha!) shade of yarn at that first knitting class in mid-January 2011. I practiced all the beginner stitches, gradually (read: very slowly!) learning how to make each row without adding extra stitches or accidentally losing any. I was not a quick study.
This picture is what I think of now, any time someone admires my knitting or says something like “Oh, I could never…!” This is what beginners do, not just in knitting but every hobby, every skill… in life, really: we start with being terrible, then we learn how to avoid (or repair) mistakes.
It’s very hard for me to be okay with being terrible at something. VERY hard. But I try to remember: the hideous cup cozy doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
2012: Your body is not the problem.
My basic knitting skills had “leveled up,” so I made two of these cute vests for my boys for Christmas. I followed the pattern to a T. And the neck holes would not go over their heads. Not even close. With my newbie abilities, I had to rip and redo and figure out how to make them fit.
This is the good thing about making your own clothes: you can adjust to make it work for you. But sometimes it’s just not right. It can be demoralizing to discover you’re not “normal” even just according to one designer’s intention. It’s hard when you recognize that something is wrong… and feel that it’s most likely you.
It never crossed my mind that my children’s noggins were too ginormous for these vests; I knew the pattern’s neck was just too small. I wish I were as forgiving to myself and my own body when things don’t work quite right.
2013: “Just Okay” doesn’t have to be good enough.
I’ve made some downright bad projects, but I’ve made vastly more things over the years that turned out “just okay.” Every single time—still—I try to talk myself into keeping them. I try to convince myself that they are “good enough.”
It’s not worth it. Despite the investment of yarn, time, effort… sometimes it just needed to be a learning experience: learning techniques or fit, or experimenting with color, or (this is a biggie, in life) discovering what I didn’t actually want. Some of these “just okay” items I unraveled and reknit into something completely different. Some became donations that went to someone who would love and enjoy them. (This sweater became a cabled wrap… that I later donated.) (And I still don’t have the perfect red cardigan I’ve wanted forever.)
2014: Celebrate what you love.
Now and then I think we all need something a little frivolous. For me it was the year I turned 40, which frankly was a bit of a rough time. We lived on the sweltering coast of South Carolina where I would never use a double-layer 100% wool wraparound infinity scarf, but it was exactly the project I needed.
All the colors. Patterns of my favorite things (coffee cups, tea pots, anchors, waves, sheep, red birds, houses, balls of yarn). Short quotes from a few favorite movies (The Jerk, Dead Poets Society, and When Harry Met Sally). And, mostly, the experience of making something totally impractical, purely for the delight of it.
2015: Do what you gotta do.
I still don’t know what happened here. The yarn should have worked, the gauge should have worked, the size should have worked. But when I washed it it went massive.
You all know you should never put 100% wool in the dryer, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to make something work. A quick, carefully-monitored trip through the dryer made this monstrosity shrink into what was basically a wearable blanket (key word: wearable). I wouldn’t do this with just anything, but there are times when you have to consider the risks and take your chances.
2016: Be not afraid.
Ask a knitter what scares them, and this may be one of the top replies: steeking. Steeking is a technique that allows you to knit a tube, then cut it open into a flat piece (or in the case of a tea cozy, cut openings for spout and handle). The idea of taking scissors to a project you’ve just spent hours and hours creating can be, understandably, nail-biting.
But learning to do it opens up (so to speak) a world of possibilities. And it’s not just about learning the technique itself. It’s learning that on the other side of the fear something truly wonderful may be waiting.
2017: Remake as you grow.
My parents traveled to Ireland the year I learned to knit, and they brought me back a few skeins of tweed yarn from a shop in Dublin. I worked hard to make the very basic shawl on the left, with just a few yards of the precious yarn left over.
But I never wore it. It was lovely to look at and delightful to squish, but too deep and too dense and with too short a wingspan to wrap around the way I like.
By 2017, of course, both my skills and my confidence had improved, and I really wanted to use and enjoy that emerald yarn! So I unraveled the first shawl and knit up the second one. It’s cabled (one of my favorite techniques to knit, and appropriate for the yarn’s origins), shallower, and much longer for good wrapping-around-ness.
Things don’t have to stay the way we left them when we were first learning.
That’s all I have to say about that.
2018: Make memories. Literally.
We don’t travel as often as we would like, but when we do I search out souvenir yarn. It’s a delight to find it, then to bring it home and spend some hours working with it and remembering.
You can make memories… and then you can make memories.
2019: Accept compliments.
Learning to accept compliments is… weird.
This shawl is probably my most-complimented knit. Nearly every time I have worn it in public someone has commented on it; I suspect it has something to do with the fabulous speckled fall colors of the yarn (maybe I need a whole wardrobe in this palette?).
Sometimes now I don’t just say “Thanks,” I go over the top and say “Thank you so much! I made it, so I’ll gladly accept that compliment!” Maybe it’s overkill, but it kind of reminds me of the video segments on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when he’d go visit a factory; he’d always point out that it’s people that make things.
And not only people in general, but us. We make things, all kinds of things. I think it’s important to remember that, and important too to make things we are proud of.
2020: Do the Big Thing (sometimes).
This project was on my “dreams list” for a lot of the 10 years of my knitting life. For a long time I didn’t think I had the skills (I was probably right), then for a long time after that I didn’t think I had the determination (probably also right).
But at some point you either, you know, knit or get off the pot.
Now I keep this lacy circle shawl out where I can look at it and admire it and remind myself: “I did that,” that big, beautiful, daunting thing. That dream thing. I see it—and remember—every day.
2021, the WIP: Coming into focus.
I posted that ugly traffic-cone-orange stitch-practice cup cozy to Ravelry (a social/pattern-database/record-keeping website for yarn crafters) 10 years ago today, on February 7, 2011.
To mark the occasion, I’ve been examining two things: my knitting bucket list, and my yarn stash. It’s much faster to buy yarn than to knit it, so my stash has grown according to my plans, inspirations, and (I’ll admit it) more than a few impulses. This year my commitment-to-myself is to work with the resources I already have.
So I’m matching skeins-on-hand with the projects I most want to make, including a few long-term list items: a traditional cream-colored cabled pullover, a delicate black lace wrap, a “Laverne” sweater with a big swoopy N on one side. And my 10-year-epic-celebration project: a traditional square Shetland-style hap.
At this 10-year point of my knitting life, I’m still learning and experimenting. I also hope I’m becoming both a better knitter and a wiser one. My intentions for this year—focus and clarity—are at play, as I evaluate what I have to work with, and discern what I intend to work on. It turns out clarity comes stitch by stitch. Life lessons, you know.
Here’s to the next 10 years of them.
Stay well, friends. 🙏🏻
2 thoughts on “10 Years, 10 Knits: 10 Life Lessons on my Knit-iversary”
I love seeing these snapshots of both lessons and projects for such a tidy space of time. I crochet, and have given away so many projects over the years. I wish I’d kept track of how many I made over the years. It’s really special that you tracked yours.
Hi Katie! Thanks so much for your comment! Being able to make things as donations and gifts is pretty great, right? I’ve often wondered if my record-keeping is unnecessary, but I’ve been surprised how often I refer back to my notes, especially because I tend to use a lot of the same yarns again and again.